81% of Americans claim to have a book inside of them, but only 3% of people who try to write a book actually finish it. Why?
I had the great opportunity to sit on a writer’s panel and answer questions from aspiring writers. There is one common, ultimate question that I am asked – How did I do it? We’ve all got wild imaginations and great stories, but how can we get them down? How did I have the time, the motivation, and the patience? It does seem overwhelming, but as a teacher, I have to say that writing is for everyone, and writing a book is possible for everyone. I hate articles like this one à http://www.nytimes.com/2002/09/28/opinion/think-you-have-a-book-in-you-think-again.html that discourage everyone and anyone. The difference between talent and skill is that talent is natural and a skill can be learned. It’s just a matter of how bad you want it. Of course writing a book isn’t for the faint of heart, but the process is challenging and wonderful.
There are traits that great writers have – they see the big picture, they are articulate (duh), they go deep, they’re imaginative, patient, explorative, great at critiquing, a little crazy, confident (at least most of the time); and become so completely absorbed, the rest of the world disappears. Ah, my happy place. Luckily, I get to escape to the future where there are aliens and cities inside of asteroids.
I would like to expound on one trait I believe is essential for an author. You’ve got to be insanely vulnerable, open, and fearless. My fiancé (husband in 5 weeks, eek!) is a mental health therapist…thank God ;) I’ve always been an emotional person. I cry at commercials, sunsets, and old couples walking down the street holding hands. Instead of fearing the wetness coming out of my face, Ryan smiles and lets me be without any judgment or critisism. Wouldn't that be wonderful if everyone could be so free? If little boys weren't told to "stop being a girl" or to "be a man." Psh, no wonder so many people have communication issues. Crying is just an extension of an overwhelming feeling, and feelings are the most beautiful thing about being a human. I’ve always trusted my emotions, whether they be good or bad, and this has allowed me to trust my instincts, trust myself, and ultimetely, trust my writing. If you’re scared of or routinely quench feelings, how can your characters have a believable sense of humanity? You are their literary liaison, after all.
Positive psychology is “the scientific study of human flourishing, and an applied approach to optimal functioning. It has also been defined as the study of the strengths and virtues that enable individuals to thrive.” Everyone is different, and that is why there are so many unique and wonderful books out there. I truly believe that being positive and believing in yourself may be the single MOST important thing when it comes to finishing a book. Say those affirmations in the mirror every day to pump yourself up. But positive psychology isn't about thinking you're the best person out there- althouth affirmations do work - rather it is about knowing your strengths and weaknesses. For example, my strength, as evidenced by my degrees, is in science. I would be a horrible historical fiction writer. Got it. I also know my weaknesses and what I need to do to overcome them. Every writer thinks they suck a hundred times while they write a book, so don't let your weaknesses become your fears. Let them become something you dissect and probe and experiment with until they are no longer weakensses. Is yours your writing ability? Lack of time? An underdeveloped storyline? An inability to empathize? Personal issues outside of writing?
I taught a college-level life skills class last year where the students took a dozen surveys including personality tests, work ethic tests, strengths and weakensses tests, etc. I was amazed at how many of them had no idea about themselves. "I'm an introvert!" one of them yelled very surprised once. I peronally do best writing in cafe's, but maybe an introvert would rather have a home office. You can't improve yourself or overcome things if you have no idea who you are. And you have to take care of yourself. I'll admit, the first book for me was probably an escape as I was dealing with heartbreak, but is that bad? Perhaps you cannot write until you have come to peace with an unbalance in your life. You should know what's best for you. We are all different and need different things. Listen to your mind and body. I won't go on a rant about meditation here ;)
I do hear procrastination though as a main reason people cannot finish a book...
Why are you having procrastiaiton issues? Is it because you don't know where the story goes next? Sometimes reading other books helps rekindle my momentum spark. The important thing is to remember that it is OK to have your ups and downs – everything in nature cycles – but have the guts and belief in yourself that the ebbs and flows are healthy and inevitable. You’re not a robot after all! My second book came out 7 months later than I wanted.
Motivation is defined differently depending on the book, but I like the four “M’s” – mastery, momentum, mating, and money. When you get motivation to complete a goal, any goal, what drives you forward? If your motivation for writing a book is money, well then…excuse me, I just took a break to laugh. Trust me, I have dreams of being the next J.K Rowling or Stephen King too, but there’s a difference between positive psychology and practicality. You have to be motivated by something else. Is it mastery? Being the best at your craft? Do you want to experience fame and notoriety? How about mating? This is when you need to hear your loved ones or your crush say they are proud of you. Mine is momentum. I feel a sense of accomplishment pushing past hurdles and barriers and making progress even if it’s just a step in the right direction. When my positive momentum and kick-life’s-butt drive is stopped by something, it throws me completely off. I liken this to cheating on a diet for just one day and you throwing your hands up and giving up. That happens to momentum people.
Now, most likely you do not have just one type of motivation – I do have to put out a valuable product that I think is worthy of a best seller and I need Ryan to say he is proud of me too – but I do feel like my other momentum peeps out there make the best writers, just because the process is so long. I definitely make an excel sheet with small tangible goals EVERY DAY. Without my excel sheet, where I can look at my progress, albiet slow; I cannot seem to reach my goals. Is that a weakness? Maybe, but it gets me to where I want to go. I have an entire spreadsheet for health and nutrition goals too, haha.
As for having the time, most writers have other jobs...I teach full time and belly dance Friday and Saturday nights. With all things, if it's a priority, you will make time. Imagine if you wrote 300 words a day...that's 3 small paragraphs. You could write a 90,000 word book (VERY good size, going on too long for many genres) in 10 months! What are you waiting for? Now editing and marketing are whole other monsters, but if you can sit down and write a book, you're already a bad ass.
I hope I’ve given you some food for thought. Since this blog is getting a little long, I am going to stop it here. I need to find the motivation to start book #3! Talk to you all soon! Until then…
Keep Writing and Righting,
Ashley L. Grapes